MANILA, Philippines–FLORENCIO CAMPOMANES, the country’s chess pioneer and former president of the International Chess Federation (Fide), was Bobby Fischer’s original Filipino friend.
They met in New York in the mid-1950s when Fischer was emerging as a chess phenom barely into his teens and Campomanes was shuttling between New York and Washington DC while working for the State Department.
‘‘I doubt very much if he remembered the first time we met. He was very young, maybe 10 or 11,” Campomanes recalled. Campomanes said he was visiting the Brooklyn Chess Club where someone pointed to him a very promising but very nondescript boy named Robert Fischer.
A few years later, they met again. Campomanes was in Toronto with the 19-year-old Rodolfo Tan Cardoso, then the Philippine junior champion, for the world junior chess championship. After the tournament, they went to New York to arrange a match with Fischer, who had become the American junior champion at 14. Needless to say, Fischer beat Cardoso, but not before the Filipino youngster eked out one and a half points from the American. (Some accounts pegged the score at 6-2.)
Fischer’s friendship with Campomanes blossomed in the next couple of decades. In 1967, Fischer walked out of the 1967 Interzonal chess tournament, part of the long elimination series that would pick a challenger for the world champion in a dispute over his observance of the Sabbath. Campomanes took the occasion to invite Fischer to the Philippines.
He readily accepted and made his first trip to the Philippines to play in what was aptly called the Beat Bobby Fischer Series against the likes of Cardoso, Renato Naranja and Rosendo Balinas, three of the first four Filipinos to achieve the rank of international master (Eugene Torre, before he became Asia’s first grandmaster, was the third Filipino to become an IM).
Fischer made a grand total of $2,000 from that series, which was sponsored by Meralco. Out of the prize, he tried to give Campomanes, the event’s organizer, a few hundred dollars as commission. Campomanes refused to take it, but that gesture, duplicated many times after that, made Fischer very special to Campomanes.
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